BRASS Business Reference Sources Committee
Each year at the ALA Annual Conference, the Business Reference Sources Committee of RUSA’s Business Reference and Services Section (BRASS) meets to select the outstanding business reference sources published since May of the previous year. With all due respect to the familiar and longstanding column title, committee members have come to think of our charge more broadly as finding the most outstanding business information sources, the better to reflect the evolving nature of the formats and means of accessing business information to meet reference needs. For 2010, the committee weeded titles proposed during 2009–10 down to fifteen that made the final review. Among those, the committee selected three as outstanding business information titles and an additional six as noteworthy titles. The works reviewed below cover such areas as economics, the music industry, corporate sustainability, retailing, brand valuation, the current and historical U.S. role in international trade, and an innovative new vehicle for affordable (or free) online access to premier instructional resources in business and economics.
Committee members determine that the final selections for this column meet the conventional definition of reference: a resource compiled specifically to supply information on a certain subject or group of subjects in a form that will facilitate its ease of use. The works are examined for authority and reputation of the publisher, author, or editor; accuracy; appropriate bibliography; organization, comprehensiveness, and value of the content; currency and unique addition to the field; ease of use for intended purpose; quality and accuracy of indexing; and quality and usefulness of graphics and illustrations. Each year more electronic reference titles are published, and additional criteria by which these resources are evaluated include search features, stability of content, graphic design quality, and accuracy of links. Works selected are intended to be suitable for medium to large academic and public libraries.
21st Century Economics: A Reference Handbook. Edited by Rhona C. Free. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2010. 2 vols. 1000p. $325 hardcover (ISBN: 978-1-412-96142-4).
The unprecedented global economic downturn since 2008 has come with many questions that require some knowledge of economics to be properly understood. This reference handbook is significant and timely in providing answers to many of those questions. In two volumes, divided into seven parts, virtually all areas of economics are covered. Volume 1 contains the first five parts: “Scope and Outstanding Business Reference Sources Methodology of Economics,” “Microeconomics,” “Public Economics,” “Macroeconomics,” and “International Economics.” Parts 6 and 7 appear in volume 2: “Economic Analyses of Issues and Markets” and “Emerging Areas in Economics.”
21st Century Economics: A Reference Handbook broadens the discussion of economics beyond such traditional economic theories as production, distribution, and consumption, extending its range to the consideration of such emerging economic frontiers as neuroeconomics, the economics of happiness, feminist economics, and evolutionary economics. Editor Rhona C. Free, a professor of economics at Eastern Connecticut State University, was the 2004 U.S. Professor of the Year—a prestigious national award from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
The one hundred contributors to this reference, representing a wide array of academic fields and backgrounds, were selected from universities and policy institutes around the globe. The topics covered represent a broad spectrum of economic thought, from the traditional to cutting-edge. There is no lack of divergent opinions. The arrangement of the topics makes reading very easy. Each section is devoted to an area of economic theory, a methodology, or an individual economic issue. One of the greatest strengths of the work is bringing these diverse thoughts together in one resource for the benefit of its readers.
Most chapters follow a similar pattern, starting with a review of the theory, its application and empirical evidence, policy implications, and future directions. The language is readily understandable and avoids unnecessary jargon. Theoretical treatments are followed by concrete examples to illustrate each point. Chapters conclude with references and lists of recommended additional readings.
Those chapters are concise but informative, and presented with deliberate straightforwardness. According to the editor, authors were required to write their analyses using few technical and quantitative tools, and without the use of calculus. This makes the discussion of economic topics easily understandable to those without an economics background.
The turmoil and the challenges in the global economy in recent years have made economics a far less abstract subject to most people than it has been. Seemingly ever-present economic uncertainties spark peoples’ interest in the economy and lead to questions about how the economy works. This handbook provides readers with accessible answers to many of the complex economic questions that affect their lives. 21st Century Economics: A Reference Handbook, indeed an outstanding contribution to the field, will benefit a broad range of readers, from undergraduates to advanced researchers, who wish to attain basic knowledge about economic theories and policies and their impact on the economy and peoples’ lives.—Pauly Iheanacho, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware
Flat World Knowledge’s Open Source Business and Economics Textbooks. Nyack, N.Y.: Flat World Knowledge. www.flatworldknowledge.com (accessed July 31, 2010).
Flat World’s open source textbooks are a unique experiment that makes high-quality textbooks freely available: anyone can access textbooks in business and economics and other disciplines at no cost. Access is provided under a Creative Commons license. The license protects the copyright holders while simultaneously allowing anyone to view the content. In addition to business and economics, Flat World’s catalog includes textbooks in the humanities and social sciences, the sciences, professional and applied sciences, and mathematics. More than twenty available textbooks cover accounting, economics, finance, information systems, management, marketing, and organizations.
Textbooks can serve as business reference tools to explain basic concepts and theories, explore fields of study, and elucidate how markets and institutions work. For example, Money and Banking, authored by Robert E. Wright (New York University) and Vincenzo Quadrini (University of Southern California), contains a chapter on the financial system. The chapter provides a basic explanation of what a financial system is, the role that it plays in channeling funds from savers and investors to borrowers, and how consumers, entrepreneurs, businesses, and governments put the money to work for personal expenditures, start-up financing, working capital, capital investments, and funding government services. Just as in a good dictionary, the several types of financial markets are defined and explained: equity vs. debt; primary vs. secondary; exchange vs. over-the-counter; and money vs. capital. The textbook advantage is that it locates these institutions in the context of the larger financial system and shows how they interact with it.
Flat World was founded by two executives with much experience working for traditional textbook publishers, including McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Thomson (now Cengage). They saw a business opportunity in using open source publishing to solve three interrelated problems: textbook affordability for students; instructors’ desire to customize textbooks for their courses; and authors’ needs to protect their intellectual property. Flat World’s business model envisions instructors at colleges and universities adopting these texts for courses to provide students with an affordable alternative to the overpriced print and e-book offerings from traditional publishers. The books are authored by experts, peer-reviewed, and they meet professional standards in organization, content, and illustrations. The free format can be viewed in custom-designed text or full-color PDFs. Students desiring print editions can opt either for purchasing and printing PDF chapters that can be downloaded and printed, or buying an inexpensive black and white edition, or paying a reasonable premium price for a full-color print edition. Each print purchase comes with digital study aids including practice quizzes, digital flash cards of key terms and concepts, and audio study guides, as well as a social learning space in which students can share notes and learn from one another. For example, the “Print-it-Yourself” edition of the financial accounting text is $34.95. The black-and-white print edition is $44.95. The full-color textbook is only $74.95. This pricing compares very favorably with traditional textbooks, which can cost $150 or more. Bookstores can stock the texts or print them on-demand. Open-source licensing provides instructors with tools to modify the books and create customized editions for their courses. Flat World’s publications are outstanding business information sources that take full advantage of the power of the web to publish essential open source textbooks.—Peter Z. McKay, University of Florida, Gainesville
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